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8. Inform the public and train the geoscience workforce to understand Earth processes and address these critical needs

The geoscience community provides the knowledge, experience and ingenuity to meet society's demands for natural resources, environmental quality and resilience from hazards. Here we outline the critical geoscience workforce and education needs of the nation and the world at the outset of the twenty first century and provide policy guidance to grow the economy while sustaining the Earth system.

What Is The Need?
What Are The Policy Recommendations?
Additional Resources
What Is The Need?

There is a critical need for an increased number of people in the geoscience-based workforce now and in the future (Figure 8A). A geoscience-based workforce includes technicians, professional geoscientists, professional engineers, research and development managers, exploration managers, data managers, applied researchers, basic researchers and educators at all levels. Such a workforce has or will need a knowledge and understanding of the Earth system and Earth processes, computational and analytical skills, a sense of discovery and adventure, and strong problem-solving traits. In addition, this workforce is critical for teaching the next generation of workers, based on their sound understanding of geoscience concepts and their work experience.


Figure 8A: Data collected by the American Geosciences Institute shows the decline in geoscience degrees granted. The public and private sectors face a dilemma of an aging workforce and a limited number of skilled new workers educated in the U.S. to fill the growing gaps.

The growth of a U.S.-based geoscience workforce and an educated public begins with the formal and informal education of the nation’s children. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, 2007, the number of high school students who have enrolled in an Earth science course for one semester (versus a full year for biology, chemistry or physics) has never exceeded 25 percent (Figure 8B).  In addition the tens of thousands of Earth science teachers in K-12 grade levels have received little to no training in the geosciences during their formal education careers and must try to pick up expertise through summer workshops and other opportunities. Renewed emphasis on student and teacher education in the Earth sciences is necessary to provide the U.S. geoscience workforce of the future and help the nation deal with the critical issues outlined above.


Figure 8B: Data collected by the American Geosciences Institute shows the decline in geoscience degrees granted. The public and private sectors face a dilemma of an aging workforce and a limited number of skilled new workers educated in the U.S. to fill the growing gaps.

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What Are The Policy Recommendations?

Given the critical need for a skilled geoscience workforce and more robust geoscience education, the geoscience community suggests the following national policy directions.

  • Support inquiry-based education in geoscience for K-12 grade levels.
    • Include geoscience as a core course in middle school and high school.
    • Increase the rigor of geoscience courses and establish an Earth Science Advanced Placement class.
  • Support public outreach and informal education through specifically funded programs in geoscience at national parks, museums and other public venues.
  • Support geoscientists teaching in schools and encourage the Department of Education to recognize and support the importance of learning geosciences at the K-12 level.
  • Support assessments of the geoscience workforce to determine specific needs and concerns.
  • Provide greater support for scholarships, grants, and fellowships for students majoring in geoscience at undergraduate and graduate levels. For example:
    • Reinstate geosciences in the Department of Education’s graduate assistantship grants for the program “Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need”.
    • Support Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) in the Geosciences Directorate of the National Science Foundation.
  • Provide more scholarships, grants and fellowships for students majoring in education with an emphasis on science teaching.
  • Increase incentives for universities to require geoscience courses for teaching degrees.
  • Provide incentives for teachers to gain additional geoscience training as a requirement for certification and advancement during their teaching careers.
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    Additional Resources

    Links to references, supplementary, and/or updated information.

    Full Report (PDF)

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    With a burgeoning human population, rising demand for natural resources and a changing climate, it is critical to more fully integrate Earth observations and Earth system understanding into actions for a sustainable world.

    Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Geoscience Policy..

    Posted on October 17, 2012; Last Updated on October 17, 2012


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